York is third among Pennsylvania's 67 counties in reported child abuse cases, the number of which has increased for five straight years.

Depressing as those statistics are, professionals who work with abused children see them as positive signs — and they hope the trend continues.

It means more people are aware of child sexual and physical abuse and are concerned enough to report suspicions.

In fact, only about one tenth of the 1,320 child abuse cases reported in York County last year were substantiated, meaning investigators found abuse through evidence or an admission by the perpetrator, and the courts became involved.

"We know that there's still a lot of work to do, but I really think that the trend up in number tends to demonstrate that there's a growing awareness of what people should do," said Deb Harrison, executive director of the York County Children's Advocacy Center.

Some of that awareness undoubtedly is because of the 2011 arrest of former Penn State assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky, later convicted of molesting 10 young boys over 15 years, sometimes on university property. He's currently serving at least 30 years in prison.

One of particularly disturbing aspect of the horrifying case is that some of those children might have been saved from their tormentor.


Three top Penn State administrators allegedly failed to report allegations made against Sandusky and are awaiting trial for, among other things, failing to report suspected child abuse.

The men, including former university president Graham Spanier, were told of a 2001 allegation against the coach but decided it would be more "humane" not to notify police, according to charging documents.

At least four boys were abused after that decision, according to the state attorney general.

The case was a wake-up call for the Legislature.

Based on recommendations from the Task Force on Child Protection, formed in the wake of the Penn State scandal, lawmakers have been strengthening Pennsylvania's child abuse laws.

Just this year they expanded the definition of mandatory reporters and increased penalties for those reporters who fail to do their duty.

Harrison said she thinks — and hopes — the new laws will lead to more reported cases.

It's sad we must be so vigilant with our children's safety, but it's good that more people are reporting their suspicions.

And if investigators have to weed through nine unsubstantiated reports to protect just one child, so be it.